The real issue with Lagos Government’s pronouncement on Okada riders, by Olusegun Fafore

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Today, enforcement of existing laws on commercial motorcycles (Okada) and restriction of their operation to certain parts of Lagos State, amounting to 74%, 15 out of the 57 LCDAs takes effect, but public understanding of the pronouncement seems inadequate, if not inaccurate.
The prevalence of the word ‘ban’ in the announcement is perhaps the reason for the misunderstanding and divergence of opinions.

Fierce arguments have been advanced to justify the supremacy of government’s duty of protecting and ensuring public safety over destroying the legitimate means of livelihood of thousands of people. Likewise, opposing views are vociferous in proving that addressing the security and safety challenges posed by the operations of Okada riders is more important, supporting their position with the phrase social safety before economic consideration.

Across media channels – offline and online, the arguments for and against the pronouncement are divided between these two perspectives. And sincerely, both are valid, depending on the lens through which one is viewing the issue. Ideologically, the two perspectives are related government responsibilities to the society. One is about “the common life of the people who form a community” while the other bothers on “the good of the public”.

Lagos State Government’s position on Okada and restriction of their movement to certain areas of the State was a decision that was carefully taken. Restricting the commercial motorcycle riders to 42 out of the 57 Local Community Development Areas (LCDAs) in the State speaks to the question of socio-economic wellbeing of Okada riders, who depend on this activity as a means of livelihood.

On the other hand, forbidding them from certain major arteries and bridges is a response to public call for government to address the Okada menace and abate the security risks their operation pose to residents (lives and property). Until situations testing our wit in balancing the social pendulum arise, governance is usually seen as a tea-party affair.

For activating an existing law towards advancement of the State, the Sanwo-Olu administration has come under some sort of criticism. Even, the government’s manifested consideration for Okada riders’ livelihood by keeping 74% of the existing market for their continued operation has been misinterpreted as one that will put riders out of job.

The pronouncement and its intents were misinterpreted because the issue was wrongly framed. Now that increased understanding of the matter is coming to the fore as result of increased advocacy, and the realization that government’s position on the matter accommodated all conflicting interests, let us think about how a law that has been with us for more than six years is now so strange at the point of activation.

Is it possible that the outcry against the law was an imposed opinion on the public, innovatively-driven, for enlistment on the public agenda for discussion? Like in every society, there are established interests that will wrestle the State to safeguard their ‘bread and butter ‘. We are certainly a society that thrives more on emotions at the expense of law and order. Some said government has not provided alternatives. The government is certainly providing alternatives by ramping up investments to expand BRT corridors, enhance water transportation, fixing bad roads to become more motorable and working hard to complete the Blue rail line project from Okokomaiko to Marina. There will never be a perfect time in the world to do what is right. Every government is a continous work in progress.

However, Lagos State ‘replacement effort’ will curb the promoted ‘displacement narrative’. It also demonstrates that Governor Sanwo-Olu’s resolve to enforce existing laws and restrict Okada to certain areas in the State are for our overall good. Against the expectations that organized bike-hailing businesses will perish, operators are realigning their business strategies to play more competitively in the new operating environment.

Soon, the landscape that has changed permanently for commercial motorcyclists will radiate a similar level of sanity in your experience when you arrive Calabar or Uyo where Okada operation is not only regulated, but guided by an area coverage regime. This administration is particular about transportation and traffic management. So, inaugurating a multi-modal transportation scheme and driving it to success certainly requires tough taking decisions.

To assume that some residents of the 26% of the state where Okada prohibition has become effective will not wake-up to the reality of the absence of their ‘go-to’ means of transportation means will be shameless, but safer neighbourhoods, from now on will be an adequate compensation for the little discomfort. The thought of a bike crushing you from any angle, or being dispossessed of valuables, with the aid of an on-motion motorcycle may no longer enjoy as much prominence on our minds.

More so, the elaborate intra-city commuting structure bus transit system scheduled for introduction in the coming days will wipe-out, if not totally, the trail of Okada operation in the affected areas. Aside from hundreds of BRT buses that will be injected into the State transportation system, duly registered and efficiently managed smaller vehicles, will arrive our streets in uncountable numbers, to enable movements from location A to B in a safe manner.

Lest I forget, Lagos megacity status is real. Independent and verified socio-economic data are consistently validating the megacity status of the State. Every time numbers come up, we see the ‘opportunities’ and ‘challenges’ sides. This is actually the reality of the Lagos megacity status. Certain tough decisions must be taken today to keep the city going, while some long-range plans must happen for the purposes of future development. We need to make sacrifice today to guarantee tomorrow.

*Fafore is Executive Assistant on Public Relations and New Media to Lagos State Governor

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